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My Mother’s Potato Salad May 21, 2009

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Family, Food, random stuff.

At what point does a recipe become your own?

Do you make a revision or two, and say, hey, it’s mine now?

Or do you give credit where credit is due, and perhaps long after?

Here’s the thing.  For as long as I can remember, my mother’s potato salad has always been the hit of the party.  Regardless of what “the party” was – she makes her potato salad for family barbecues, for church pot lucks, and pretty much everything in between – and it’s a hit.

My earliest memory of my mother’s potato salad is when I was maybe 3 – Mother was boiling the potatoes, and something happened in the kitchen (might have been a toddler or two underfoot) (or it could have been a German shepherd) (or a cat, I don’t know), and she somehow spilled the pot of boiling potatoes and water.  On herself.

For the longest time (we’re talking YEARS here), when I heard about boils (as in – one of the plagues of Egypt), I thought of the giant blister on my mother’s leg that lasted for what seemed forever to my young mind.


Most potato salads involve stirring a bunch of mayonnaise into some cooked potatoes.  Maybe you’ll season them, maybe add some tuna or something, but this is different.

There’s a method to my mother’s potato salad.

And I finally managed to pester her into sharing it with me.  Photobucket

We start with potatoes – red potatoes.  Ideally, we want to cook the potatoes whole – just wash them.  In a perfect world, I’d use baby red potatoes, but we actually like to pan-roast them when we get them, so I use bigger potatoes – just cut them in half (or quarters) – leave them as big as is practical, an boil them (unpeeled) in your basic salted water.

Start the taters cooking, and while they’re coming up to a boil, go ahead and put together the dressing.

That’s right.  Dressing.

This is potato SALAD, isn’t it?  Yeah.  Where have you been?

Please keep two three things in mind:

  1. As far as I know, my mother never had a written recipe for her potato salad,
  2. I have no idea where this recipe came from (she might have gotten drunk one night and just made it up.  But I kind of doubt it, at least the drunk part), and
  3. My mother is left-handed.  Believe it or not, I think this matters.   Everyone knows that left-handed pinches are different than right-handed pinches.  I’m just saying.


Anyway, while the potatoes are coming to a boil, we can start the dressing.  I clearly remember, when pressed, my mother’s saying that was “about” 2 parts oil to one part vinegar – I use “about” a half cup canola oil to “about” a quarter cup cider vinegar – I’m sure you could use red wine vinegar; I just haven’t tried it.

Yes, I measure the dressing in a Ball jar.  We don’t need a fancy measuring cup and bowl.  There are markings on the side of the jar, and we can screw a lid on it and shake the  bejeebers out of it.

Now.  To the oil and vinegar, we’re going to add about a quarter cup of mayonnaise.

We’re also going to add some seasoning.  When my mother showed me, it was “about this much” of stuff, so I’ve of necessity had to translate that.  Photobucket

Try this:

  • a scant teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar

I know, weird, right?

Trust me, though, OK?

You’re also going to want to dice an onion and a couple of ribs of celery and set them aside.

Meanwhile, the potatoes have probably come to a boil.

PhotobucketRemember the potatoes?

Yeah.  They’re boiling – just let them cook until they’re done.  Remember, this is potato salad, not pasta – we don’t want it al dente.

But we don’t want to overcook them either.  Mushy potato salad is NOT what we’re going for.

Just cook the potatoes until there’s almost no resistance when you stick a fork in them.

Drain the potatoes.


And here’s the most important part – peel and slice them while they’re still hot.  I mean HOT.

PhotobucketThe potatoes just came out of boiling water – they’re fricking HOT!

The good news is that the potato skins essentially peel right off when they’re that hot.

The bad news is that they’re HOT!

The other good news is that there are heat-resistant gloves that are easily available.

The other bad news is that gloves are awkward for peeling potatoes.

Use your own judgement, I guess.

Peel the potatoes and slice them – if you’re using baby potatoes, you could actually use an egg slicer (and I have!), but we weren’t, so I didn’t.

PhotobucketThe key is to work fast – you want to get the dressing on the potato slices while they’re still hot – that way the potatoes actually soak up more of the vinaigrette when they’re hot, and, thusly, have more flavor.

Who knew, right?

Apparently, my mother knew.

Once the dressing is incorporated into the potatoes, they’ve cooled enough to add the diced onion and celery, along with some chopped parsley if, say, you happen to have some growing right outside your door. . .


Be sure to stir thoroughly – yet gently – with plenty of dressing – remember, potatoes are somewhat porous and will soak up the dressing, which is a good thing.

PhotobucketAnd, of course, be sure to sprinkle with paprika before serving – that’s how you know it’s for “company” – paprika garnish, right?


1. madmaz - June 13, 2009

FIRST! I think you should still give credit to your mother…nice recipe though 🙂

2. Toy Lady - June 13, 2009

Thanks, madmaz. And for the 20 or so years I’ve been making this potato salad, it’s ALWAYS been “my mother’s potato salad” – that’s what they want, and I do try to give the people what they want. 🙂

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